Buying Coffees in Italy

“Four lattes please” I said to the waitress in the coffee shop in the Italian Lakes.

I’m ordering for Liz, me and our two Mums. And I’m doing it in Italian. I’ve got this. I can handle it.

“Four lattes???” came the reply, with, as you can see, lots of question marks.

“Yup. Four lattes. With chocolate on top”. We’re on holiday after all.

With a slight delay for a couple more question marks (from the eyes this time) the nice waitress went off and prepared our drinks.

So it was that I learned if you order latte in Italy you get milk, and if you order it in our local UK coffee shop you get, well, coffee.

The Problem was, of course, that I was speaking in my language and the waitress was hearing in hers.

And so I did not get the result I was hoping for.

Ever done this?  Maybe you can spot yourself here.

Maybe you’re a big picture person, full of new ideas and visions.  But your audience are realists and pragmatists so they just don’t get it.

Or maybe you’re actually a details guy, so you like to take people though your ideas stepwise. But your audience are into questions like “so what?” and need you to cut to the chase.

Or you’re an extrovert who just keeps talking to fill the silence when your introvert audience needs you to shut up whilst they think.

Or you’re an introvert who simply can’t formulate your idea out loud to an audience that needs to talk things through rather than read long proposals.

In all four cases, you and the audience are speaking different languages, and if you’re going to communicate successfully you have to learn to speak their language. You can’t expect them to speak yours.

I couldn’t expect the waitress to understand that when I ordered milk, I meant coffee! That was my problem to solve if I was going to get what I wanted.

We spend all our lives talking with people who don’t speak our language, in a communications style sense.

So we need to be able to understand our style, and learn to read that of others and make the adjustment.

Otherwise we might as well all be ordering lattes in Italy.